New Design Challenge

With the new physical reality of the pandemic era descending upon us, our cities, buildings, and the entire built environment – the human-made structures and systems that facilitate our lives in cities, towns, and even rural lands – must be reimagined within a new spatial and functional context.

Transit systems that bring us to work and home, the parks and fields where we play, office buildings, houses of worship, sports stadiums, places of entertainment and attraction around the globe were all designed for the pre-2020 world. Today, those spaces, our cities and society as a whole need to make fundamental changes in their design in order to adapt to health and economic demands that are now required of them.

In response, we believe it is architects, designers and planners who need to come to the fore with new technology and design to get us through this major transformation.

Our new program, Design Innovation for a Post Pandemic World, will lead participants through a multi-stage process starting with idea generation through problem-solving to implementation. The program will accelerate academic investigations with practical implementation and development of design solutions in response to COVID-19.


Interested in learning more?  Please contact


Paradigm Shift in Spatial Design

This program will offer a challenge to MIT Students, faculty and research staff to define, develop and deploy design innovations to address urgent problems in the age of COVID-19. These might range in scale from new apps that monitor and manage social distancing, to city planning policies about land use, building design and public space.

Offices, retail space and restaurants, public gathering facilities and transportation services of all sizes and in all corners of the world need to be redesigned and reimagined if they are going to survive the incredible demands that health and society now require of them.

Already, we see plexiglass separating vendors from customers at registers, and bus boardings from the rear doors to protect drivers, but these are temporary and ‘un’-designed solutions that could have a detrimental long-term (and even medium-term) effect on the economy and society.

We encourage solutions that are responsive, but that are also scientific and artistic in order to enhance our relationship with others in society and with the built environment we inhabit.


For example, some specific design challenges that need to be addressed are:


1   How can we enable hands-on collaboration so critical to research and invention while maintaining social distance?

Essentially, how do we reconfigure the university, the laboratory, and public forums to ensure the continued enhancement of knowledge and progress.


2   How do we maintain vibrant, successful downtowns – that mix people, ideas and transactions – if fewer people come to work, visit, shop, or attend sports games or large entertainment venues?  

The glory of the city is in its mixed-uses, its experiences, its density of activity and life.  How can we maintain the excitement and productivity of a city when we need to control and suspend activity rather than expand it?


3   What happens to the “office” and “office buildings” – to date our dominant and most productive workplace?  Does it change into something else or move elsewhere?


4   Can we reduce the health risk of using airports and public transit while maintaining or growing ridership to sustain this crucial mode of transportation?  Or will there be a change to modeshare?